FAITH Magazine November-December 2006
The Dawkins Delusion
Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, does not, it has to be said, suffer fools gladly. Whenever he writes he is utterly ruthless about woolly thinking, and doesn’t let pass a point of view that will not stand up to scrutiny. In his latest book, published in September and provocatively titled The God Delusion, he slates the whole rationale behind belief in God at all. He analyses various aspects— scientific, scriptural, moral—of the understanding of the divine across the major world religions. But his method, while laudably showing up inconsistency and even manifest absurdity, is itself deeply flawed. Predictably, he does not approach any aspect of the discussion about religious belief in a balanced way. This is his summary of theportrayal of God in the Hebrew scriptures: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak ; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal , genocidal , filicidal , pestilential , megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (ch. 2). Doubtless he can find isolated phrases somewhere in the Old Testament to justify each of these adjectives, but can this tirade, in any honestly objective way, summarise the Old Testament as a whole? This example illustrates the partial approach Dawkins habitually takes to this subject. He simply does not have the patience for calm, unbiased scriptural exegesis. It is his chapters onscience which are more directly relevant to this column, especially given Dawkins’ expertise in evolutionary biology. First, he takes issue with Stephen Jay Gould's idea that faith and science are “non-overlapping magisteria,” having nothing in common with each other and nothing to say to each other. Actually we would agree with Dawkins in this. God has revealed Himself as the Creator God, so faith and science study the deeds of the same God from different but complementary perspectives. Faith deals with a different level of truth, but not a different kind of truth from science. Dawkins also criticises, as we ourselves do, any notion that God is invoked merely to explain away gaps in our understanding of the universe. He takes creationists to task over their analysis of gaps in the fossilrecord. He is particularly critical of the current ideas of "Intelligent Design” (ID) explaining how the ID-proponents’ notion of “irreducible complexity”—biological gaps which they claim only God’s direct creation can overcome —is not a valid counter-argument to Darwinian evolution. He draws on (Catholic) Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God, to respond to the favourite ID example: the bacterial flagellar motor, showing how it could indeed have evolved from previously existent molecular structures.
Dawkins then assesses the arguments for God’s existence from the design of the universe and the apparent directionality of the development of life on earth—what is called "the anthropic principle". This principle states that life and human consciousness exist in a world which is fine-tuned for the emergence of just such life. And yet, does the obvious fact that we are here with the power to perceive the development that led to ourselves mean that this is how things had to be? Dawkins contrasts two possible answers to this dilemma: either God intentionally designed the universe, or there are many—hypothetical and unobservable—universes with many alternative values for the fundamental constants of physics; so our, apparently designed, universe is just one of many randomly possible ones.Dawkins, of course, opts for this latter explanation, which is propounded by, among others, Martin Rees, who, in Just Six Numbers, contraposes “coincidence", providence" and "multiverse”. The only 'evidence' offered in favour of this hypothesis is that it provides a seemingly rational alternative to the argument for God from science—classic circular logic! But even if evidence were found for this completely speculative hypothesis, it would still have no validity as an argument for atheism. A "multiverse" is just a bigger and more complex unity, which must, in turn, have its own laws of development and selection. The argument from design/causality remains unaffected. Dawkins finally justifies his atheistic position by suggesting that an intelligent Creator God would have to be morecomplex—and therefore more improbable—than the universe He is invoked to explain. Like so many materialists, Dawkins does not seem to grasp at all what transcendence really means. He sees 'God' as referring to just another, and bigger, entity in the contingent series of creatures. Remarkably Dawkins gives almost no space to ‘theistic evolution’, granting only the briefest mention to the eminent biologists and believers, Francis Collins (see Cutting Edge Sept/Oct 2006) and Kenneth Miller (Cutting Edge Nov/Dec 2005). All he says is: “I am continually astonished by those theists who… seem to rejoice in natural selection as God’s way of achieving his creation... God wouldn’t need to do anything at all” (ch. 4). Again Dawkins can only see this "lazy God" as some neo-desitic agent within theuniverse. He fails to grasp the immediate and active concourse of the transcendent Mind of God with every natural causative relationship—or "law"—in the Cosmos. That is why they all add up to a Unity of meaningful Control and purposeful Direction.